Senate Confirms FAA Nominee Whitaker After Lengthy Vacancy

Caden Pearson
By Caden Pearson
October 25, 2023US News
Senate Confirms FAA Nominee Whitaker After Lengthy Vacancy
Michael Whitaker, nominee to be the next administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), testifies during a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington on Oct. 4, 2023. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The Senate on Tuesday confirmed Michael Whitaker to serve as the head of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for a five-year term.

Mr. Whitaker, a former deputy FAA administrator during the Obama administration, received bipartisan support from both lawmakers and the aviation industry.

During his confirmation hearing earlier this month, he emphasized his prior experience at the FAA, stating that it provided him with “some real advantage” in addressing the “big challenges” facing the agency.

Mr. Whitaker’s extensive background in the aviation sector includes senior roles at major carriers such as United Airlines, and he most recently served in an executive position at a company specializing in electric air taxis.

His history in the aviation industry earned praise from Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), the ranking Republican member on the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, who highlighted the challenges facing the incoming FAA administrator.

These challenges include staffing critical air traffic control facilities, modernizing outdated air traffic systems, and transitioning FAA employees back to in-person work after three years of telework.

“The next administrator will face serious challenges in rebuilding the FAA after 18 months without a Senate-confirmed leader,” Mr. Cruz said at the hearing on Oct. 8.

“I am glad that the Administration has finally heeded my advice and nominated a person with experience in aviation,” the Texas senator added.

The FAA is tasked with ensuring aviation safety, overseeing air traffic control, and certifying aircraft. The agency has grappled with various obstacles, including a shortage of air traffic controllers, outdated technology, and concerns about close calls between aircraft at major airports.

Currently, Congress is deliberating on legislation that will shape the agency’s operations for the next five years.

FAA building
The Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration building in Washington on July 21, 2007. (Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

Mr. Whitaker’s priorities for the FAA include addressing technological advancements and preparing for the “aviation system of the future.” He emphasized the need for agility, creativity, and ongoing investments to meet the evolving demands of the aviation industry.

In his opening statement at the hearing, he expressed his commitment to not only maintaining the FAA’s safety record but also building upon it.

Mr. Whitaker outlined his plan for the agency in his opening statement.

He stressed the importance of making the FAA an attractive place for individuals to build their careers in aviation.

“The FAA faces big challenges, and it will take innovators and dreamers, who bring ideas from every part of our country, to solve them,” he said.

“Aviation has opened doors of opportunity to so many, including me,” he continued. “We must make sure it continues to do so for citizens in every corner of the country, no matter their background.”

During his confirmation hearing, Mr. Whitaker noted the rapid changes in the industry, saying that “drones were new” when he was last at the FAA. Furthermore, he said, “Commercial space launches were rare, and flying taxis were still only in cartoons.”

“All of this has changed and it requires that the agency look forward, adapt quickly, and execute a plan for the future,” he added.

Mr. Whitaker has garnered support from various aviation industry groups, including those representing airlines, pilots, and airline passengers. His experience and forward-looking vision have resonated with stakeholders throughout the aviation sector.

Mr. Whitaker is the second nominee proposed by the Biden administration to lead the FAA.

Early in September, President Joe Biden nominated Mr. Whitaker to lead the agency after his first choice, Phil Washington, withdrew from consideration in March because of GOP opposition in the Senate.

Mr. Washington, the CEO of Denver International Airport, withdrew due to opposition in the Senate, which cited concerns about his limited aviation experience and connections to a political corruption investigation.

The vacancy at the top of the FAA opened up in March 2022 when Steve Dickson, nominated by former President Donald Trump, stepped down during his five-year term. The agency has since been under interim leadership, most recently headed by the deputy transportation secretary.

Savannah Hulsey Pointer contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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